Commentary

'The Face' Returns, But Will Its Readership?


The Face magazine helped to define an era with its eye for youth movements and U.K. subculture before closing in 2004, as circulation and ad pages dwindled. Remarkably, the title is making a comeback.

Stuart Brumfitt, the former editorial director of Vice Media’s Amuse travel website, is the new editor.

Wasted Talent, which publishes music magazines Kerrang! and Mixmag, bought The Face from Bauer Media in 2017. Ten years ago, Bauer was thought to revive the title, but that never happened.

A magazine launch used to be a grand occasion, typically involving a big party to impress advertisers and media buyers who mingled with celebrities near an open bar — a necessity in luring reporters to attend.

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Nowadays, my first reaction to the launch of a consumer publication is to ask a litany of questions: Who is crazy enough to start a magazine? Which vainglorious billionaire needs a tax write-off from a media investment? Does the phrase “Google-Facebook duopoly” mean anything to the publisher? Does the open bar include top-shelf liquor?

The Face was a cultural touchstone during its 24-year history, giving readers a look at the newest trends in youth culture, movies, music, fashion and photography.

Founded in 1980 by editor Nick Logan as a stylized music magazine, its first covers featured performers such as David Bowie, Siouxsie Sioux and John Lydon, formerly Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.

The fusion of music and fashion was only one part of an edgy editorial mix pushing at cultural boundaries that now feel conventional, given mainstream acceptance of queer culture. But focusing solely on The Face’s role in up-ending ideas about gender misses the point of its broader editorial scope.

The Face helped to launch the careers of famous fashion photographers, including Corinne Day, Juergen Teller, Nick Knight and David Sims. Katie Grand, the founder of Love magazine, was The Face’s fashion director in 1999. Julie Burchill, Jon Savage and James Truman, who would later become the editorial director of Condé Nast, were early contributors to the magazine.

This week, The Face introduced its Instagram account; later, it will roll out a website and quarterly print publication. Starting out on Instagram is a sign of the times, given the image-sharing app’s worldwide reach among 1 billion people and its role as a cultural engine.

The question for the new Face: How will the magazine differentiate its voice when social media provides a platform for a new generation of social influencers? Instagram and YouTube give their creators inexpensive publishing and broadcasting tools that once cost a fortune.

Brumfitt provided several clues about how The Face will define its editorial mix, including a team of contributors from the worlds of fashion and design.

“One thing we’re doing with the website is a lot of audio,” he told The New York Times. “A lot of people are now just sending voice notes to each other, not bothering to text. Texting is totally passé. And obviously with the rise of podcasts, we were, like, audio is the new text.”

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